To the naked man in the hot springs outside Taos

Verde Hot Springs, photo by Greg Walters. CC BY-SA 2.0 CC BY-2.0

Recently my husband and I drove twenty hours to New Mexico for a glorious reunion with our adult sons. We’d all taken precautions before and during our travel. Near the end of our visit, we put on swim suits and hiked down to the Black Rock hot springs outside Taos where we enjoyed the water, a spectacular view and great conversation. 

And then you and your buddy arrived.

There was plenty of room for another group in the hot spring. With a smile, my husband welcomed you and said, “We’ll stay over here if you want to take the other end so we can social distance and all enjoy this.” Your immediate response was to yell, “I hate when liberals tell me what to do.” You said the pandemic was a hoax, that ordinary flus killed just as many people.

That’s when we left. I figured you didn’t have a gun, since you didn’t have anything on, but who knows what you might have done with your fists.

Had we felt safe to stay, I would have told you how glad I am that you apparently hadn’t been ill with COVID-19 and didn’t have loved ones who suffered from the virus. We, sadly, have seen the loss and illness of so many. A long-time friend was just the second person to die of the coronavirus in our hometown of Milwaukee. He was a retired police officer, vibrant and fit. We have friends and colleagues who’ve lost more than one member of their family. We’ve been at vigils to mourn the deaths of food processing workers, young and healthy people who had to work shoulder to shoulder with no protective gear and no paid sick days. A dear friend is one of the many “long-haulers” who’s had symptoms for months, after terrible chest pains and a scary pulmonary embolism landed her in the hospital. 

We know how many millions of workers risk their lives every day because they lack access to paid time to care for themselves or a loved one. And we pay attention to the data. Every reliable source indicates this virus is significantly more deadly and far-reaching than ordinary flu, and that it’s decimating communities of color. 

I don’t know that any of this would have made a difference to you. You might have looked at us, a couple in our seventies, and said old people can’t live forever; if this doesn’t take them out, something else will. We actually intend to have many more years of enjoying friends and family, our jobs and activism. We’re also aware of, and saddened by, how many young people have been affected by this pandemic. 

I don’t understand your contempt. But I do understand anger. I’m enraged that we have someone in the White House who has stoked the misinformation – oh, let’s use the naked truth here and call it lies – that has filled the news outlets that you pay attention to. I’m beside myself that so many people are told to be angry not just at people trying to stay safe but at some group of “others” – immigrants, Black people demanding justice, women fighting for equality, folks who want to live and love as they please without being fired or beaten as a result – instead of focusing their rage on the real problem: a rigged system and the small number of super-rich who prop it up.

On the hike back from the hot springs and the ride back to our rental place, my family talked about you. We wish you well. We, too, care about liberty. But we won’t give you liberty to give us death. 

We didn’t let you spoil our day. Instead, you strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to preserve our democracy and guarantee massive turnout in this election among those who support care, equity and respect.